Roger Federer survived three match points to outlast Marin Cilic and reach an 11th Wimbledon semi-final after a thrilling five-set victory at the All-England Club. The seven-time champion at SW19 trailed by two sets and was on the brink of a quarter-final exit on three occasions before claiming a 6-7 4-6 6-3 7-6 6-3 win to set up a last-four clash with Canada's Milos Raonic.
Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion, looked destined for a first appearance in the semi-final after serving his way into a two-set lead. Federer pulled a set back after surviving two match points, before an exhilarating tie-break saw the Swiss level the contest as Cilic saw another opportunity to close out the match pass him by.
The deciding set was one-way traffic however as Federer completed the 10th comeback from two sets down, with Cilic losing from that same position for the first time in his grand slam career. Raonic awaits the 17-time grand slam champion but he knows he must make a marked improvement if he is to remain on course to add an eighth Wimbledon crown.
Neither player could be separated in the opening set, which went to the tiebreaker, but it was from then on that Cilic took control. He rattled off the first five points and though Federer staged a brief comeback he held on to take the lead.
An early break in the second set cemented that advantage and when Federer missed an chance to level from Cilic's next service game, the writing was on the wall. The world number 13 took the second of two set points to double his lead and leave a partisan centre court crowd disconsolate.
Federer had recovered from two sets down nine times in his career, while Cilic has never such a dominant position slip in major competition and that initially showed no sign of changing as he held serve in his opening three service games. Keeping points short and nullifying the Federer backhand, the 27-year-old appeared destined for a third appearance in the last four of a major.
Cilic missed three opportunities to grab a crucial break in game seven when three break points came and went, and he would be made to pay as Federer broke in the very next game via a double-fault which gifted him a foothold in the contest. He would go on to halve the deficit and truly test Cilic's resolve.
Federer saves three match points in dramatic style
The former Queen's Club champion Cilic had another chance to put one foot in the semi-final but allowed a break point to slip by to give Federer another lifeline. Successive backhands down the line gave Federer two break chances himself in the very next game but again Cilic stayed firm to hold on.
That stubbornness would pay off as Federer wilted in consecutive service games, yielding match points for Cilic but on both occasions he wriggled away – the second saved by an 18th ace of the match to take the pivotal fourth set to a tiebreak. An increasingly nervous Federer butchered a chance to level the match with a lax forehand and Cilic pounced, only for him to net from his third match point.
A sublime backhand down the line from Cilic levelled the tie-break at 8-8 but Federer would eventually secure a deciding set via wayward forehand from his opponent. A now extraordinary match settled into a string of successful service holds, until Federer created a break point in game six which he careered into the net on the backhand side.
But the pressure continue to ratchet up on the Cilic serve and he eventually succumbed, sending a forehand wide to hand Federer the critical break and the chance to serve for a place in the last four. It was an opportunity he would duly take to leave Cilic in disbelief and keep Federer on track for an unprecedented 18th major title. It was also Federer's 307th win in grand slam tennis, breaking the record of Martina Navratilova.
Raonic joined Cilic in the last four after making light work of American Sam Querrey, with a 6-4 7-5 5-7 6-4 victory to match his semi-final appearance from 2014. Querrey had seen off world number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round but was unable to progress beyond his first ever major quarter-final as Raonic's link-up with three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe continues to prove dividends.